US firms muscle in on Hong Kong IPOs

After a slump in Hong Kong IPO activity, the sector is hotting up again. There is fierce competition for adviser mandates, and it looks like US firms are winning the race against their UK counterparts.

Between January 2013 and February 2014, US firms scored a total of 84 advisory roles in Hong Kong IPOs, compared to 30 by their UK. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Sidley Austin were both market leaders in the sector over the last 12 months, advising on 11 deals each.

It’s a mark of success for Simpson Thacher, which launched its local Hong Kong practice in 2011 through the lateral hires of former Linklaters partner Celia Lam and Christopher Wong, who joined as a partner from Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s Hong Kong branch.

The US firm isn’t alone. Davis Polk & Wardwell and Kirkland & Ellis have also picked up their own share of deals, after building up Hong Kong law capabilities in 2010 and 2011.

No success story is without losers, however. Milbank, which localised in 2011, is mulling an exit from its local practice to put more emphasis on its international network. The firm has been hiring in the region, most recently picking up capital markets lawyer James Grandolfo from Allen & Overy.

There is no formula for success in Hong Kong, but clients will be the big winners as competition intensifies.

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